Recently I came again upon Tennyson’s moving poem, “Tears, Idle Tears,” resonant with the poet’s regret for days and friends reduced to memory; spent days that can never be renewed.
Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart of things, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.
I think we’ve all known, even the toughest among us, those days when we really don’t want to laugh, we feel out-of-sorts, and not necessarily because things haven’t gone well. We’re just not fun to be around. How does it happen, this sudden change in mood, like a hovering cloud, casting its shadow? We may even weep.
Tears have a way of bringing-us in touch with the cavernous depths of our deeper selves; as such, they’re often messengers of our need to clarify, to discern the wheat from the chaff, to both forfeit and embrace. Tears give opportunity for a tabula rasa, or clean slate.
As Merle Shain put it, “Unexpected emotions are a good way to figure out what hurts us. Tempers that flare about unimportant things, tears that appear at odd times when we don’t expect them, tell us what we feel even when we aren’t telling ourselves (Hearts That We Broke Long Ago).
Many think it unseemly to weep, especially men who frequently dismiss it as weakness. In a world of poverty, war and disease, I wish we’d weep more. In war, especially, we often lose our capacity to feel, which is to say we forfeit our humanity. At the personal level, we lose our potential to discern our best self.
I have always liked the sensitive ones for their defining gentleness, limitless compassion, abounding insight; their ability to weep for another’s pain or unjust fate.
They are the lucky ones. They are the noble ones.